Leadership, Officer Development, Truck Company

Captain’s Corner: The Power of Goal Setting

Setting goals can be an effective way for firefighters to motivate themselves to achieve their long- and short-term aims.

The top ten New Year’s resolutions are:

1. Spend more time with family

2. Get fit

3. Lose weight

4. Quit smoking

5. Enjoy life more

6. Quit drinking

7. Get out of debt

8. Learn something new

9. Help others

10. Get organized

By the time you read this article, you will probably have lost sight of the New Year’s resolutions you made in the eggnog-fog of the New Year. Although I would encourage every one to embrace these lofty goals, none of them pertain to your career development. So let’s take a minute and focus on career goals.

Why is it important to set goals?

  • Goals provide a sense of direction and purpose and reflect on what you would like to achieve in your life.
  • Goal setting capitalizes on the human brain’s amazing powers for solving problems.
  • Goals focus our attention and our efforts on success and away from undesirable and irrelevant actions.
  • Attaining goals can intensify our efforts to achieve greater success.
  • Goals can lead individuals to develop and change their behavior.
  • Goals serve as an energizer; higher goals induce greater effort.

Studies show that specific and challenging goals leads to higher performance 90 percent of the time. (If goals were a drug, they would be outlawed for creating an unfair competitive advantage.)

Top-level athletes, successful business people, and high achievers in all fields use goal setting. Setting goals gives you a long-term vision and short-term motivation.

Goals must be “S.M.A.R.T.”

Specific goals are goals we write down so we know exactly what we aiming towards.

Motivating goals are ones we will stick to.

Achievable goals are realistic and attainable.

Rewarding goals gives us encouragement to strive for higher goals.

Trackable goals are ones in which we can measure our progress and know we are moving in the right direction.

A goal is most powerful when written with an affirmative attribute. A goal is what you will do, not what you will not do.

Always state the date that you intend to complete your goal. As Napoleon Hill said, “A goal is a dream with a deadline”.

Goals that are difficult to achieve and specific tend to increase performance more than goals that are not.

Most of us have attempted to set goals in the past only to have failed miserably. Some then conclude that “goal setting doesn’t work for me.” The problem most people face with goal setting is that they fail to stay focused on their goals.

Here are some ideas to keep you focused.

1. Affirm your goals every day. Write down affirmations on several cards; put one in your pocket, one inside your locker at work, one on your bathroom mirror at home, and one in your sock drawer. This will help you stay focused on your goals until you have conditioned them into your subconscious mind and you will think about them automatically without having to remind yourself.

2. Share your goals with others. Be accountable to someone other than yourself. Family and friends want to see you succeed. They can provide reminders when your behavior is not consistent with your goals. Knowing that others are monitoring your progress will keep you focused.

3. Visualize your success. The more detailed and real you can make it, the more powerful it will be.

4. Create a vision board. Take photos or cut out pictures of things that will inspire you and paste them on a board that will help you visualize your success.

5. Focus on no more than three goals at a time. One is best.

6. Take action every day. Goals broken down incrementally should include daily actions that will take you closer to achieving your ultimate goal.

7. Prioritize constantly. There will always be competing priorities. Learn to say no. Realize that if your goal is truly worthwhile, it will require some sacrifice.

8. Remove distractions. If the Xbox is too tempting, unplug it and store it away. If your social calendar is too full, eliminate some obligations.

9. Reward yourself. Savor your successes. When you meet your daily goals for the week, allow yourself an hour on the Xbox and then put it away.

10. Realize that there will be times in which you will fail or become distracted but that is not cause to give up. Use this time to consciously renew your commitment to achieving your goal.

The first step in setting goals is to create your “big picture” as to what you would like to accomplish in your life/career. Then break the goal down to five-year segments, setting smaller goals that you need to complete to reach your lifetime goals. Then break them into one year increments with a one-year plan, then a six month plan and a one month plan all the way down to a daily “to-do list”, starting today.

About in the middle of my firefighting career, I had the opportunity to work for one of the best truck captains in my department, the late Mike Sullivan, whom I have written about before. Mike inspired me to one day become the captain of the best truck company in the city. To achieve this, I had to pass a lieutenant’s test and a captain’s test and then develop the truck company into “the best.” This became my 10-year goal.

The first step was to break my goal into increments. I would allow myself five years to learn everything I could from Mike and prepare for the lieutenant’s exam. The next five years would be to prepare for the captain’s test, get a truck assignment, and develop the company.

The first five years were broken down into one-year increments. Years one and two would be used to complete the ten courses necessary to receive a state fire marshal’s fire officer certification. Year three would be studying department manuals, standard operating procedures, and taking promotional prep classes. Year four would be sharpening up tactics, counseling, and company drill presentations for the actual test. The final six months prior to the exam would be a full-blown 100-percent effort for final preparation.

Breaking my goal down into a timetable of very doable incremental tasks invigorated me. I started to believe that I really could achieve my goal.

I passed the lieutenant’s exam high enough to be promoted on the first day of hires. Although I lost focus on several occasions, I stuck with my plan and succeeded. But I was still only half way to my 10-year goal. My success strengthened my resolve to set goals, make a plan, and stick to it. When I received my lieutenant’s badge, I knew it was only temporary and visualized my next badge that would say “captain.”

Four years later, I was appointed captain. Then, using the power of goal setting, I prioritized the requisite skills of a truck company, created a training timetable, and, within a year, I considered my truck company to be one of the best!

Imagine your last day on the job. What will you have accomplished? Will you be a captain? A chief? An engineer? A knowledgeable and experienced firefighter that mentored numerous new firefighters?

Use the power of goal setting and your career accomplishments may be even greater than you can imagine today.

Remember: What the mind can conceive and believe, it can achieve.

Captain's Corner: Michael HenniganMichael Hennigan retired as a battalion chief from the San Francisco (CA) Fire Department after served 35 years with the department. He holds a Bachelor of Science degree in business from the University of San Francisco. He is certified by the California State Fire Marshal to teach management and tactics. For the past 10 years, he has taught numerous fire departments throughout northern California and is a part-time instructor for City College of San Francisco. He can be reached via e-mail at [email protected].